You’ve been practicing all week for this performance. The time comes for you to walk up on the stage, and you start to get nervous. You begin your piece, and the nerves don’t go away. You know that you’re making mistakes and you know that the audience can hear them, and it just makes the whole situation worse. By the time you finish and your studio mates applaud you, you’re feeling pretty down.
As a graduate student, I have had my fair share of these types of studio experiences, and, of course, it’s not fun. Sometimes there’s nothing you can really do but just push through the nerves and finish your performance. That is what your studio class is there for; to practice your performance skills. I know that studio class can be pretty daunting, but I encourage you to think about these things when you have to perform in your studio classes in the future:
1. Your professor and your studio mates are all there to help you... which sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to forget. Everyone in your studio class knows what it’s like to have to perform in front of you and your peers. Everyone gets nervous, even if they don’t look like it on the stage. Even your professors get nervous from time to time. It’s something that we all have to deal with and work on, so don’t be so hard on yourself if your nerves get to you.
2. You don’t have to give perfect performances in studio class. A lot of students are using studio class as a way to prepare for their performances, whether it’s a studio recital, a solo recital, an audition, etc. So, while everyone should prepare their piece well, it doesn’t have to be perfect. If it was perfect, then you wouldn’t need to play it in studio class. Everyone has the capacity to improve, even the students in your studio class that you think play well every single time.
3. Not only do your studio mates and your professor want to help you in studio class, they see a lot of good qualities in your performances. If you’ve just performed and you don’t think that you did very well, you’re going to be hung up on all of your mistakes that you just made. But, you don’t really know what your studio mates are thinking. Oftentimes in my studio class, my studio mates always give some sort of a compliment when they’re giving comments and it’s so nice to hear that because you might not have noticed something that went well in your performance.
As nerve-wracking as it can be, studio class is a helpful class, and your studio mates and your professor want to see you succeed.
Before coming to UIUC, I had no idea about the electric strings program here (which is funny now, considering my best friend is an electric violin student here). I only knew about electric violin beforehand when Mark Wood performed in my school district when I was 12. We were in a rehearsal once and he asked me to play with him on stage because I had a great bow arm… it was the coolest experience ever and I had him sign my ½ size violin.
But I forgot about that until recently. I’ve been to a couple electric strings performances and masterclasses this semester and it has been a huge source of inspiration for me. It’s been so inspiring that I plan on getting myself an electric violin and taking lessons next semester!
I really love what Dr. Haken is doing with his students. There seems to be a focus on rock music (which I absolutely love), but also works specifically for electric violin. I currently take a class with Dr. Haken and I’ve learned that he is really open to whatever his students want to do. One person at the electric strings studio recital played a piece from a video game which was amazing!
I recently got back into songwriting after a long break and showed him a tune I’d want to perform on electric violin. I was nervous he might not think it was a worthwhile endeavor but he seems very excited about my ideas. I even want to show him more of the songs I’ve written next semester. A lot of these songs are many years old, and I think now is finally the time I can present them well. Keep an eye out because you just might see me performing my own compositions in a concert very soon!
The world-renowned Krannert Center for the Performing Arts offers many performances in a year and provides a vigorous and artistic environment for students in the School of Music. It had always been a dream of mine to perform on stage there. At the beginning of October, I finally entered Foellinger Great Hall, and it was such a great pleasure that my first time there was to be on stage as a performer alongside the University of Illinois Wind Orchestra. I was pleased to see lots of people in the audience. Even though the audience wore masks, I was certain that they enjoyed the music with happy faces.
Let’s talk recitals. They’re really hard and also really fun. In my time here, I’ve gone through the process four times. And I’m lucky enough to say I’ve experienced a miracle of sorts with recital prep: Each recital has gotten progressively less scary for me!
Sept 24, 2021, marked the first Lyric Theatre at Illinois concert of the 2021/22 season, which sold out within the first two weeks! It was electrifying to sing to a sold-out house (or should I say- garden) of 250+ people after a year of virtual music-making and limited audience attendance. As a part of the “Lyric Theatre Under the Stars” concert, I had the opportunity to perform the witch’s aria from Rusalka and a gorgeous duet from Madama Butterfly. We also sang beautiful chorus numbers such as One Day More from Les Misérables, Va Pensiero from Nabucco, and Make our Garden Grow from Candide.
Learning, Singing, Laughing, and… Crawling:
Joining Lyric Theatre Studio as a Vocal Performance Major
Entering my junior year as a vocal performance major, I wanted to bring more improvisation, movement, and musical theater repertoire into my craft. After a long chat with my voice teacher, I decided to give the lyric theater studio a try! Meeting on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 to 5, the studio encourages lyric theatre majors, as well as vocal performance and choral music ed majors to join! Led by professors Sarah Wigley and Michael Tilley, this studio has been nothing but warm, welcoming, and FUN!
As my freshman year nears its end, it has been and is a very busy time, with lots of end of the year activities! With all of the performance opportunities recently, it’s felt more and more like things are returning to normal. Within a two week span, there have been three major performances, with the last one 48 hours. Here’s the rundown.
The Senior Recital is the ultimate culmination of the Bachelor of Music degree. This is an hour-long program, and the solo performer takes the stage for its entirety. I gave a Junior Recital last year, and this was a 30-minute performance in the Smith Memorial Room. I was very excited to present an hour-long program, as I knew this would give me space to tell many stories and present different musical styles.
As a current vocalist and former cellist, I don’t get the chance to dive into the realms of cello playing like I used to. Luckily enough, I was told about the Illini Student Musicals production of Little Women needing a cellist for their pit orchestra. I couldn’t turn down such an opportunity as it allows me to perform the cello again. Prior to this experience, I have never performed in a pit orchestra because I was always more involved in the acting aspect of the show. I always knew and have been told that pit orchestra is way different than a regular orchestra, but I never really quite understood until we started to practice.
My dress rehearsal for my undergraduate junior recital is coming up, and I’ve been preparing myself to make the best use of the time that I will have onstage before the night of the performance. Here are some quick tips and helpful things I’ve been thinking about regarding this part of the recital process:
I have written in previous blog posts about one of my main projects this semester: an in-person presentation of Samuel Barber’s often-neglected opera, Vanessa, with the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra. This past week brought the culmination of this tremendously fulfilling project. The event was quite momentous, as it was our school’s first in-person performance featuring vocals to have a limited live audience since the pandemic.
Walking into graduate school on day one can seem freeing, and in other ways overwhelming. Finally, you have the practice time you have long desired. Finally, there are no advisors and professors telling you exactly what you should be doing all of the time. Finally, you are given most of the deciding power in what kind of music you want to play, and what you want to say through your music. However, with this newfound sense of freedom, most new graduate students can feel lost, confused, overwhelmed, or unmotivated once they are left to do things on their own. Believe me, I have been there, and I still struggle with these same feelings. It is my hope that some of my successes and failures can come to guide new graduate students in “choosing their own adventure” that will set them up for a sustainable and enjoyable career in the arts. Here are some things to think about that may help to enlighten your path as a new graduate student:
Last week, I sat in on the first orchestra rehearsal for Lyric Theatre @ Illinois’ and University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s concert presentation of excerpts from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. I could not wait to begin working on the music with the talented chamber orchestra, and today, I had the opportunity to do so! This was quite a big deal for me because it was the first time I had sung solo in the Foellinger Great Hall unamplified (one of my greatest Illinois memories was singing the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance in November 2018, but that performance utilized microphones). The acoustics of the Foellinger Great Hall are renowned, and some of the world’s greatest singers, including many of my vocal idols, have enjoyed giving recitals on this stage. It felt amazing singing with an orchestra in this space which is so kind to singers and provides plentiful natural amplification.
Winter Break was extra long this year. For me, this meant more practice time, which I found to be, depending on a variety of factors on any given day, both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, more time to practice = more time to study the repertoire I was preparing for the annual Paul Rolland Violin Award Competition. On the other hand, more time to practice = more time playing the violin alone, without anyone to structure my day except me. While I do appreciate a slow, meditative practice session, I find it a difficult lifestyle to maintain without the routine expectations provided by a “normal” weekly schedule of playing in lessons, studios, and chamber groups, and orchestra rehearsals; all of which I am lucky to experience in-person this year. I think that’s why I felt all the more grateful at my first in-person orchestra rehearsal experience of the second semester.
Incredibly, the last time I was in the Krannert Center’s cavernous Foellinger Great Hall, one of the great treasures of our university, was March 2020, almost a year ago. The last day before the pandemic fully took hold, I was on that familiar stage performing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar,” with the Men’s Glee Club, non-treble voices of Oratorio Society and Chamber Singers, soloist Ricardo Herrera, and the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra led by Donald Schleicher. This was also the last time I performed with a large ensemble for a large audience, and even the last time I have been in a room with that many people for any purpose. This performance took on particular weight when we found that we would not perform the piece at Carnegie Hall and that this would be our last chance to communicate Shoshtakovich’s fiercely relevant political message. The performance was life-affirming in every sense, and its memory still thrills when I think about its eternal temporal place on the edge of a pre-pandemic era.